And our Anegada crossing really was marvelous! An unbelievable window opened up right when we wanted to go, and so instead of bashing and crashing into the predominant eastern trade winds, we SAILED EAST (well, okay, motorsailed most of it) across this infamous body of water. It was a beautiful night and a short 80+ miles. We hooked a huge fish that broke the line, and arrived at St Martin, too early - had to slow down and had a lovely morning sail in as soon as it was light.
We enjoyed walking through the French side after checking in - hit the boulangerie first, and loaded up on croissants, baggettes, pain au chocolate, etc. We visited with friends on Lady Hawk, who were anchored in the inside lagoon, and met up with new friends from Alaska on Baidarka, and Candadians we met in the Bahamas on Trudy Mae. Spent one roly night in Marigot Bay and decided to head north to snorkel at Tintamarre. We tried, but it was too wild - the most difficult dinghy entry ever for Roberta - it was bouncing all over the place! So we didn't snorkel, but did walk on the beach. Then decided to run across the water to hide from the wind in Orient Bay just behind Green Island - were we found good snorkeling and spent a couple of days anchored out, enjoying the sun.
We had read a lot about Grand Case, and it looked like a nice, protected, NON-roly bay, so we headed back over the top of St Martin and down into Grand Case. What a change - flat water! And a sweet little town. And more pastry!
Wed, May 8
We just had the most lovely evening. We are anchored in the bay at Grand Case, St Martin - on the French side of this French/Dutch island. Grand Case is known as "the gastronomic center" of St Martin. The main street of town is lined on both sides with gourmet restaurants in charming old houses. When asked for a dinner recommendation, the designer in a local French clothing shop told me, "Just stand in the street, turn, and point. They are all wonderful." And she is right - they are! The menus make your mouth water.
So we decided to splurge and have an evening out. We got dressed up - Michael even wore long pants! And we went to Tastevin, a pretty restaurant in an old house with porches right out over the beach. Our attentive waiters first brought a chilled white asparagus soup in a tiny votive candle-sized glass bowl. Exquisite. The sun set as we had appetizers of the best French onion soup we have ever tasted, tasty tempura escargot with a garlic pesto sauce and of course, the crusty, perfect French bread rolls and butter. And wine. Then came Michael's entrée of fisherman's platter: shrimp, scallops, mahi, grouper and snapper in a burre blanc, with a few white potatoes centered in the plate. Roberta's entrée was duck and sweet potatoes with a passion fruit sauce. The flavors were heavenly and as Billy Crystal used to say on Saturday Night Live: "The presentation was Maah-velous Dahling." Dinner ended with coffee, Michael's white chocolate mousse with almond crumbles and Roberta's feather-light pistachio mouse layered with paper-thin, chocolate coated almond wafers and chopped fig garnish. And a shot of Gran Marnier on the house. WOW!!!
The breeze was blowing, the temperature balmy, so we walked off our gluttony through a town that had been asleep all afternoon and came alive once the sun set. Shops were open, music was playing, people were out, lovely restaurants with candles and tablecloths and lots of crystal sent their aromas into the street. We stopped to watch a benefit concert of drummers and guitars jamming, and people-watching was so much fun! It was so, well, FRENCH! A darling little girl in a dress with a pinafore over was dancing and running around. Kids were playing soccer, people were laughing and talking and gesturing and having a great time. The clothing was unique. We loved it.
The only mar was, everyone - no exaggeration - was smoking!!! The French just don't seem to have received the memo. The woman next to us lit up three cigarettes during dinner. Everyone walks around everywhere with a lit cigarette - amazing. What is weird is, cigarette smoke annoys the heck out of both of us, but after awhile, we almost don't notice it - it is so pervasive here.
Anyway, we will seek out anchorages at the other French islands. They are just too wonderful to miss.
May 17, 2012
We left Grand Case and stopped again at Marigot to top off the diesel and make one more run to Budget Marine. We also wanted to see friends Deb and Dan on Lady Hawke again - and we did! We ran in to new friends met in Puerto Rico in Budget Marine, and headed for lunch at Lagoonie's - a popular restaurant and bar. After they left, and some internet work, we called Dan and Deb on the portable VHF and they came over for dinner. So we ended up spending the whole afternoon at Lagoonies and getting back to Celilo just as the sun set.
Next morning we set out for what we thought would be a stop at St Eustatia, but when we got out in the open water, we just felt like continuing on and headed for Guadaloupe. Although it was a very lumpy and exhausting overnight motorsail, we just decided to visit places we had not seen before on our way down the chain.
We anchored in Deshaies (pronounced Day-ay) - a very pretty harbor and small town. We spent four nights there as there was so much to do: dinghy around the corner (headland) to walk and swim at the next beach over - a very long, steep and sandy beach; snorkel along the cliff face to peer at house-sized boulders with corals growing and fish darting and urchins waving their spines; eat more baggettes; drive the Basse-Terre side of the island and hike to a couple of waterfalls with new friends on Baidarka; and hike the "creek walk/scramble over boulders" to a waterfall described in one of our guide books.
Well, that hike was quite fun, shady but not cool, but was also pretty strenuous even for a couple of pretty good hikers. It was very much a scramble over slippery boulders large and small, back and forth across the creek. As Roberta (who is usually fairly intrepid) was moving from slippery rock to slippery rock, and breaking her primary tropical forest hike rule: "touch no vegetation" to stabilize herself at times, she was thinking, "Please, don't let me grab a poisonous plant (like the machineel tree)," and "I'd rather not see a snake (like the fer du lance)," and "Please don't let me fall and break my tailbone." It took us three sweaty hours (not one to two as described), but the forest was gorgeous with palms and tree ferns and umbrella-sized philodendron leaves hanging on cliffs.
One face-saving happening was that although couple of twenty-somethings bounced past us leaping like gazelles from boulder to boulder as Roberta was in the midst of her 4-point spider-woman routine, they only did the walk a half hour faster than we did. The "15 minute walk" down a road back to town was really 30+ and down a super steep road. No 6% grades here! We could not believe how much elevation we had gained in our boulder creeping. Had a grand view of the bay below. The next day we were not moving real fast!
We left Guadaloupe and headed for another French island - Martinique. Another overnight, and it was worse than the last. The winds were very flukey on the west side of each island - ranging from 6 or 7 to mid-20's and Roberta saw a gust to 32 on her watch. Sails were in and out, up and down, engine on and off. We had ships passing in the night, fleets of small fishing boats, and a sailboat without lights or AIS until they were very close and headed straight at us! Neither of us got much sleep.
Now we are anchored in the harbor at Saint Pierre, where we just met some nice people on Sailacious, hiked up and down through a larger small town, and took a trip up to a lovely lunch and interpretive walk through DePaz rum distillery on the side of Mont Pelee. Of course we came home with some rum! And we learned how to make Ti-punch - a popular Martinique drink. Tomorrow the town is having an all day, mostly musical event (mini-operette, parade, tableaus, and the philharmonic) at the ruins of their old theater lost when Pelee erupted May 8, 1902, the town was destroyed, and an estimated 29,933 people were killed. Walking through town, many of the new buildings incorporate a wall or more from the ruins of the old ones - something Roberta also saw in Rome.
Besides the ever-present smokers, another thing we have noticed on these French islands - they are VERY clean - we see no trash along the roadways and paths, the towns have bins for trash, and while buildings may not be in the best shape, roads and signs are good. And then there is the food - ahhh!
We enjoyed our day, but both of us are so tired we can hardly think, so are looking forward to an early night.
May 2 and a new adventure is about to begin - but let us catch you up on the past two weeks...
We really enjoyed St John - which is mostly a National Park. The little town of Cruz is artsy and fun, although pretty touristy. In the grocery store we met some very nice people from Fairbanks, Alaska on svBaidarka, we had breakfast with new friends on Moon Dancer, and had an amazing encounter with old friends of Roberta's.
Michael, Gerry and I were all headed out in the dinghy to scope out some snorkeling in Caneel Bay when we spotted a sailboat with Portland, Oregon listed as home port. So of course we had to go by and say, "hi!" especially as the Capt. was in his dinghy, working on the engine.
We stopped by and chatted with a very friendly fellow... exchanging first names and some info about backgrounds in P-town when all of a sudden he asked Roberta, "Where did you go to college?" She answered, "OSU. How about you?" He said, "Me too. You aren't Roberta Wilson are you?" Michael exclaimed, "Oh my God." Roberta said, (based on his question, the info he had given earlier that he had owned a nursery near Canby, and that he looked somewhat familiar) "Yes, are you Dave Peoples?" He said, "I AM!!!" Turns out he is an old friend and his wife Helen (who was at that time back in the States) is a sorority sister and former roommate of Roberta's. We all about fell out of our boats!
We had Dave over for a couple of dinners on Celilo, and then when Helen returned, we spent an evening on their boat "Jammin." He is a great storyteller and we had a lot of fun catching up and learning much about the Eastern Carib from them. They have been cruising since 2006 from Oregon up to Alaska, down to the Sea of Cortez, through the Panama Canal and three seasons in the Caribbean, spending summers in Trinidad. Unfortunately for us, they are headed up the east coast this summer.
After Caneel Bay we had several l-o-n-g (HA!) 2.5-mile trips to little bays around the north side of St John. We were enjoying a lot of snorkeling and some hiking to old sugar plantation ruins and the St John scenery so much, we just couldn't move on. But eventually we made the 5.3-mile trip to Jost Van Dyke and began "Michael's tour of famous BVI bars," starting with Foxy's (where we had a lovely conversation with Foxy himself), then on to the Soggy Dollar. Next day we bounced down to Norman's Cay where we enjoyed snorkeling and Willy T's. Then, hearing there was a good weather window for crossing the infamous Anegada Passage predicted for the end of the week, we headed for staging at Virgin Gorda, into North Sound, and spent the evening at the Bitter End Yacht Club.
And here we ran into the folks from Alaska again and shared more stories. Turns out he knows our daughter Anna and is an instructor for ABSN the non-profit she used to work for and is now on the board! What a small crazy world! He had lots of good local info as he lived in St Thomas for 15 years and has been sailing down here for 30.
This morning we are just chillin' and getting ready for our overnight passage this afternoon. Gerry is packing, will spend a night here at Saba Rock, and then ferry over to Tortola for a flight to San Juan and a few days of exploring there. He treated us to an excellent dinner at Saba last night. It has been a great four weeks with him - my goodness time does fly... can hardly believe it is already May 3! We have absolutely loved the Virgin Islands - all of them: Spanish, US and British. As Gerry says, "that's a lot of Virgins!" And they are very beautiful. We didn't have nearly enough time here, so next season hope to make our way slowly up the eastern chain and back to visit more Virgins.
We hope your spring is beautiful and that you are healthy and happy - keeping busy doing things you enjoy.
We plan to cross to St Martin and park on the French side for pastry, cheese, pate and other provisioning before heading south. We hope to see friends on Lady Hawk and Banyan there. Not exactly looking forward to what is always described as a hellacious crossing (Anegada is commonly referred to as Oh My Godda), but that's what it takes to get there from here.
Catch you on the flip side.
On March 30 we returned home to Celilo to find that Raymond had beautifully completed our repairs, the topsides were shiny and waxed, and the food was still frozen in the freezer. As Roberta had requested, the guys had taken good care of "my baby."
Michael sanded the prop, threw on some paint, and Celilo was loaded on the lift and launched before lunch. Back across the small harbor to Palmas del Mar Marina. Because of weather and timing, we decided to wait there for our friend Gerry Day ("G-dot") to join us.
While we waited, we experienced a wonderful day in El Yunque with friend Jerry Bauer and his wife Bienva. Jerry initiated Roberta's first international work experience in Nicaragua and has been a good friend ever since. He works for the US Forest Service through the International Institute of Tropical Forestry, has worked on many projects for USAID, and is a truly gifted photographer. He and Bienva guided us via car and hiking to many of the hotspots in the Caribbean National Forest - the waterfalls, trails, viewpoints, observation tower, visitor center. And then we had a late lunch (early dinner?) in a delightful café owned by a friend of theirs at the northern gateway to the park. El Yunque was a gorgeous fusion of green - tree ferns, palms, bromeliads... And because we watched the video at the visitor center, we learned that the "birds" we heard while walking at night along the roads of Palmas were really the thumbnail-sized national mascot - the coqui. A tiny frog that makes a massive sound, calling co-qui, co-qui!
Back in Palmas - a completely manufactured, gated-within-gated vacation community - we worked on designing and uploading a website for our son Philip, who is starting out on his own (after several years working for others) as a drift boat fishing guide on the Kenai River in Alaska. Well. This was a completely new experience with a very steep learning curve for these two old sailors! Roberta designed the graphics and wrote the text with input from Philip, and then Michael programmed and uploaded it, which sounds much easier than it was! Took us two weeks about 8 hours per day - felt like WORK!!! But we had a gorgeous place to do it - by the marina pool and tiki bar. How bad could it be? We both got a little frustrated - R because her design could not be completely implemented in Website Version One, M because learning website programming was HARD. BUT, M did get it online and the special tweaks will come along in later versions. Check out catchadrift.com - better yet, book a trip!!!
Just as Michael was wrapping up the upload, our friend Gerry arrived from the States to sail with us for four weeks. So after a day and a half at the pool to decompress, we took the "best" of the bad weather days to head 35 miles NE to Culebra. The trip was ok while we were protected by Vieques, but pretty spicy when we were in the middle of Vieques Sound with 20k wind on the nose and 6-8' seas. But we got there. And anchored in Ensenada Honda by Dewey town right next to a beautiful motor yacht named Blue Guitar... Michael looked over, saw the name, scratched his head and said, "I think that might be Eric Clapton's yacht." And Bing told us that it was! WOW!!! Well, we didn't get a private concert, but still... How cool was THAT? We figured the yacht was there to drop him off so he could fly to NY and give his Crossroads Concert with Keith Richards.
While at Culebra, we spent a day on gorgeous Flamenco Beach, rented a golf cart and drove every paved road (and some not) on the island to nearly every beach, had drinks at the Dinghy Dock restaurant and bar, and took a long dinghy ride to snorkel the reefs on the west side of the island and rest on those beaches only reachable by boat.
Three nights later, we headed over to Culebrita, a beautiful little island on the E side of Culebra that is a wildlife refuge. Soon after we anchored, Blue Guitar came in and anchored right next to us! Were we being stalked by Clapton??? And this time we DID spot him (we think). So we honored one of our favorite musicians - who has given us much listening pleasure and many memories - by playing "Leila, Lay Down Sally, and After Midnight." It didn't lead him to sharing cocktails on the beach...
Oh well... While at Culebrita, we had a very hot power hike to the old lighthouse - a photographer's dream of color and ruin. We walked the beach over to swim in the "Jacuzzi," a series of pools where the ocean swell rolls in and bubbles the water around you, saw turtles nearly everywhere we looked, and M went for a very long snorkel right off the boat. The only thing not perfect about this place was the serious roll in the harbor that kept us all awake most of the night - so instead of sticking around, we headed over to St. Thomas - a short 20 miles away. Again, wind on nose, and what Michael calls an MBR (motorboat ride). Well, this IS where the trade winds blow...
We anchored in the harbor at Charlotte Amalie (pronounced Ah-MAHL-eeya) and did not find Blue Guitar here. BUT we DID find two massive cruise ships and 10,000 of our newest friends... Yikes! The cruise ships are here one day, leave in the eve, and more come in every night. The entire town is a monument to cruise ships - there must be 10 jewelry stores on each side of a city block for at least 10 blocks. Yuck! But we managed to find some hidden alleyways with real treasures of architecture, Julie - who owns an interesting antique shop, Philip - a hairdresser who designs Carnival costumes and whose mother Dorothy Milne was a celebrated art deco artist, climbed the 99 steps, visited Blackbeard's Tower (built in 17th century), went in the Frederick Lutheran Church - originally built in 1666, and walked to one of the oldest Jewish Synagogues (1796 and beautiful) in the Western Hemisphere. Got laundry done, grocery shopped, rinsed our salty boat in several rainy squalls, ate at recommended Tavern on the Waterfront and Glady's Café, walked to Frenchtown, and got stuck for a few days by some nasty weather (sitting in the harbor, it gusted to 30).
We finally got a little relief to be able to head east and motored 7 miles to Christmas Cove at St. James Island where we found good snorkeling - lots of fish, not much coral, lots of turtles - and spent a calm night. Today we motored the three miles to St John's Island and are on a National Park Service mooring ball in Caneel Bay from which we can walk to Cruz and other hiking trails, and find good snorkeling right off a gorgeous little white sand beach. Life is good.
So far every beach is Gerry's favorite. He says he is NOT going to say he sailed with Celilo, because we have had to motor everywhere so far. He and Michael have swapped fire stories for hours and analyzed the Forest Service from every angle. Philip cut Gerry's hair so short he is now known as "Sarge,"and he is now officially TAN! And he still has two more weeks of fun!
...well, that part of the story comes later! First...
After a couple of days in the marina at Palmas del Mar, Puerto Rico we checked out the boatyard there and found it to be quite professional. Celilo needed a couple of minor repairs and some maintenance, so we had her lifted and spent an uncomfortable night on the hard. Living on a boat out of the water is not what anyone wants to do!
Michael decided that this would be a good time to take a vacation from the boat, and head to Maryland to deal with taxes, some other business and to surprise our good friend, Johnny Clarke, on his birthday. So we did. (And Johnny's gasp of surprise at seeing us was priceless!) We stayed in a different place every night, ate in some of our favorite restaurants, saw other long-time friends, and had a very fun time as a party of 8 celebrating the birthday in a gracious inn at Onancock, where the laughter, wine, and stories flowed into the wee hours. And, it SNOWED!!!
Before we left Puerto Rico though, we spent a day in San Juan and a night at a lovely B&B - Casa Castellana - with our gracious hostess, Natalia. Old San Juan is gorgeous. Tall, colorful buildings with pretty architectural detail and filigree balconies line narrow streets cobbled with blue ballast stones from Spanish ships. In San Juan Cathedral, where sailors on tall ships came to give thanks after crossing the Atlantic, Roberta was what our British friends would call "gobsmacked" to find that the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon, who founded the city in 1521, is interred there! WOW!!!! The city is guarded by three forts and surrounded by a stone wall 42' high and 15' thick. El Morro (one of the forts) was built in the 1500's. We spent an entire afternoon there it was so fascinating. We also ate in three of four restaurants Natalia recommended and they were all outstanding - we had "mofongo", and sangria, and tapas... it was all beautiful and romantic and interesting. And very fun to practice espanol with patient and friendly Puerto Ricans. For your first lesson, say "Pone-say" for Ponce...
Our B&B was in an area called "Condado" - about 3 miles from Old San Juan and very much a part of the larger San Juan metro area. Condado has a long, pretty beach that is protected by a reef and makes great swimming - so it is lined with hotels and apartments. We walked miles and miles. And still didn't see everything we wanted to, so we decided to come back after our week in Maryland, see more of San Juan, and then drive back to the boat over the Cordillera Central (central mountain range) through the Reserva Forestal Toro Negro. Well, when we returned to 90 degrees from 32F and snow...
...we loved walking the streets of old San Juan, up one and down the other oohing and aahing at the architecture. It was a gorgeous, sunny, hot day. We walked along the outside of the old wall and through the main gate that welcomed sailors from long ago. The city is truly beautiful, gracious, and fascinating. We were a little disappointed to find that the places we most wanted to see - the Pablo Casals Museum, Cultural Museum, and Casa Blanca, a house built for (no kidding!) Ponce de Leon!!! - were closed because it was the Thursday before Easter (???). But we were having so much fun it didn't matter - much.
We had another lovely night at the B&B and set out in our rental car over the mountains, following the directions of the voice on Michael's ipad map app we have come to call "the bossy bitch" (first coined by our friends Mark and Julie). We giggled over her very English pronunciation of the Spanish street names and her mispronunciation of Ponce as we wound our way up and up and up and up on one of the curviest roads we have ever driven - right along the very top of the steep cordillera. We did love the tree ferns, emerald forest, and the cacophony of bird song. Huge, coiled fiddleheads were emerging from the top of the tree ferns. Fiery orange blossoms as big as your two hands making a bowl covered some trees. Michael saw his first coffee finca. But, this is a rain forest, and it was, guess what - RAINING!!! (Yes, in capitol letters). So the anticipated stunning view down to the sea was completely covered with neblina (fog). Aah well, we saw it from the other direction - sea to mountain-top on the sail east. SO we didn't mind it - much.
Then we arrived in Ponce - a charming old town with gorgeous buildings around the central plaza and huge cathedral. We checked in to the Belgica - a funky, old and formerly gracious hotel that is still very nice if a little odd. We happened upon the solemn Good Friday procession where the draped Cross, a glass coffin with Jesus, and a statue of Mary are marched through the town. We had anticipated seeing the Castillera Seralles, rum factory, the observation tower, the black and red antique Parque de Bombas (directly translated as Park of Bombs but really means fire station - a fireman is a bombero) and planned to dine on a lovely Argentinian steak in a recommended restaurant. Unfortunately, in this old Catholic town, on the one day we had to see it all, none of the tourist attractions, none of the shops, and no restaurants were open. It was a choice between one of two fast food pizza joints or nothing... so we parqued de bombas in our tummys! Oh dear... we did mind that - much.
After 10 days away, Roberta is now looking forward to getting home to Celilo and our own much lighter fare, and Michael will relish a day without schlepping luggage.
Although we love Puerto Rico and had a very nice time on our land travels here, our advice to any happy wanderer is to NEVER be a tourist in a Catholic country on the days preceding Easter! That said, we cannot figure out why more Americans don't vacation in this lovely place...
We left The Bahamas to travel alone along the 603-mile rhumb line to Puerto Rico, on what sounded like a nice weather window - and it was! The opportunities to head East this time of year without bashing and crashing into the trade winds are few and far between. But an unusual, long window opened up so we took it, and our Eastern Caribbean Adventure began!
We left George Town at 3:30pm on a "spicy" day with 20 knots of wind out of the NW. The current was ebbing and we rode it out the cut from Elizabeth Harbor into Exuma Sound. We usually have the main up to execute a cut, and after we entered the sound all three sails were up. Crossing Exuma Sound was a great sail. That, five hours between Long Island and Samana, and about six or seven hours at the end turned out to be our only engine-off sailing of the trip!!! (Is that the engine still ringing in my ears???)
We had hoped for a little more wind, but this was what Michael calls an MBR - Motor Boat Ride - with sails up, so it was a motorsail. We took advantage of any wind boost (even 2k!) to help us make more miles and conserve fuel. We carry 106 gallons in the tanks and we had 15 on deck in jerry cans - and I cannot tell you how many times we calculated and recalculated and devised bail-out plans if we needed to stop for more diesel. WHEW!
So we thought it might be fun to describe a day at sea... We use a four-hour watch system in which the first night one person has watch from 6-10pm, sleeps from 10pm-2am, and stands watch again from 2-6am. So of course the other sleeps, has one watch and sleeps again. During the day, we trade off catnaps as needed. The next night we switch, so we trade 2-watch nights. Roberta actually likes the 2 watches better; she can sleep better in between. Michael's old fire-fighting nap anywhere anytime skill allows him to get more sleep in two segments than R is able to do.
A typical morning has the sleeping person waking up at 6. Coffee is made. At 6:15 we check in with the SSB radio net we have set up with dear and faithful friends to track our position and report how it is going. It is so great when you are out alone in the middle of the big blue to hear those voices from The Bahamas and Maryland! At 6:30 we listen to Chris Parker's Bahamas weather. At 8 am we listen to his Caribbean weather (since we are traveling between!). At 8:30 we check in to "Cruiseheimers" - a wonderful managed network of cruisers who communicate through this means - with emergency, medical or priority traffic (such as missing-boat watches), announcements about seminars or whatever, and then check-ins - a good way to find out where friends are and to report your position if traveling. If one boat wants to communicate with another, they just say "traffic" or "contact" and then are allowed to call another boat and move to another frequency to chat. If someone cannot be heard, there is a relay to make sure everyone gets connected. This net also sponsors a "tech net" so if you have boat repairs to do or need something, others will help work it through. We have located lots of friends and connected this way - over the air and in port. Anyway, during or after all the communication, Roberta makes breakfast. This trip it was easy to cook because we were not heeled over, and the seas were very smooth - we had about a 6-8' roll swelling out of the north at 11-second intervals - quite benign!
After breakfast is a day of recording log information every hour (lat/long, engine hours, course, speed, wind speed and direction, temp, visibility, seas, and comments). Our chart-plotter tells us how far we have traveled, how far we have to go, our average speed and how long it will take to reach our destination, among all the other info.
In between record-keeping and meals we fish, read, write emails to send over the SSB radio, nap, make lunch and dinner and clean up. And this trip we managed the sails a lot. "Genny" in out in out in out, pole up pole down, as the wind came and went (under 10k - actually, even under 5!). Roberta manages to get in an hour of cross stitch - maybe.
Between Samana and Mayaguana Islands, Michael caught a 20lb mahi! Well WE caught it! When the line he has out hooks a fish, Roberta slows the boat so he can reel the fish in, and while he plays the fish she runs about to fetch M's gloves, the waist pole-brace, the hook pliers, gin to spray in the gills (puts it to sleep), "fish towel" to cover the eyes and hold onto it once we have it on deck, mouth pliers and scale, filet knife, cutting board, camera, and lastly the gaff hook. When Michael has the fish next to the boat, Roberta gaffs it and lifts it aboard, covers it with the towel and sprays the gills, then hops back to the wheel to power up and return to course. All this has taken maybe 15-20 minutes. Michael filets the fish on the side deck, and completes trimming and portioning the filets in the galley. One of us cleans the deck and Roberta vacuum-seals the filets and freezes them - except for one pair that we eat for dinner!
Other entertainment underway: using Star Walk on the iPad at night to learn new constellations; dolphins near the Turks and Caicos leaping 10' out of the lapis-blue, gin-clear water on their way to come "play" with the boat - which means diving back and forth under the bow and swimming with us; a tropic bird flying out to greet us and circling the boat just off the Silver Banks above the Dominican Republic; watching for whales on Silver Banks (where "thousands come to breed Nov-March"); watching the AIS signal to identify and avoid ships...
And speaking of whales... our traversing of the Silver Banks was so awesome it is hard to describe. Everywhere we looked, in a 360 degree panorama, we saw humpback whales. None closer than about 50 yds and most about a mile or more away. But with creatures that big, when they come out of the water breeching, you can see them clearly from a distance - and we like a little distance from a frisky, breeding whale!!! We saw fin slaps - whomp, whomp, whomp - over and over and over, like the male was saying "get over here woman!" or "whoowhee that was good!" There were tail slaps, flukes, and mostly leaping breeching humpbacks by the dozens. WOW!!!
In the evening, at 5pm we check in to the "Doodah Net," which is kept for boats underway to report position. If we do not check in, they send out a boat watch until we report or are seen. Then comes dinner and sunset. At 6:30 we check in with our own faithful friend SSB radio net and after that, one of us goes to bed, and the other begins a long dark night. Moonrise this trip got later and later and the moon became smaller and smaller, but it is amazing how much bright light a "fingernail moon" puts out.
While we both wish we could have sailed more, the conditions made for a very easy, comfortable passage. We caught 5 fish, saw dozens of whales, some dolphins, a tropic bird, a frigate bird, lots of ships toward the Mona Passage and no other pleasure boats.
Close to Puerto Rico, we had a wonderful sunset sail to end the trip. Near Isla Desecheo we were spotlighted by a Coast Guard helicopter. We had an easy ride across the notorious Mona Passage and set anchor in Mayaguez. Traveled 605 miles in 103 hours. We arrived 2 hours after Banyan (Nova Scotians we met in Vero and saw again in George Town) and Blue Moose - also Canadians. Both boats left three days ahead of us but stopped in the D.R. and at Mayaguana.
Our Customs experience was a hoot. None of us could call in - no working phones. Our US Go Phone had expired, and our Bahamas phone WORKED (surprise!!!!) but was almost out of minutes. So here is the series of events:
Blue Moose was called on the VHF by the Coast Guard on the way in. The CG wanted to know who they were and what they were doing. When they got closer to Mayaguez, we could hear Banyan calling via VHF to a non-existent harbormaster, then to the Coast Guard to report in.
The Coast Guard gave Banyan a phone number to call customs. After discovering he could not call Customs, and neither could Blue Moose, Banyan called the Coasties back. They were very accommodating and took "preliminary" information and called Customs for both boats. Customs indicated they should anchor and report in person at 8 in the morning. We heard all this and tried the given number on our two phones. We actually got Customs on the Bahamas phone, and probably could have completed check in, but Roberta had to repeat everything at least three times and the agent could not get past that we did not have a Customs decal and then the phone ran out of minutes. So we called the Coast Guard on the VHF, told them we could not complete check-in with Customs, and then the Coasties tried to call, but the Customs office had shut down (this was all happening at about 10pm). So the CG told us to anchor and report in person at 8am.
We were ready to go before the other two boats, so at 7:50am we headed over to the ferry dock to climb over huge truck tires (just as Roger and Jane on Sereno 55 had indicated!) to wander around the terminal grounds and garage calling "hola" and "hello" and "good morning" after finding the front door locked and all lights dark. No answer. Hmmm... where we in the wrong place???
We scrambled back down the tires in a huge swell - no easy task - getting us and the dinghy all black and nasty, and went back to the boat to drop Roberta off to look at charts for a second indicated Customs office and make copies of the town map while Michael went ashore in a different place and started to ask around. Meanwhile, Blue Moose had got online, and was able to talk via Skype to Customs, who said they could see us in the harbor, gave us an address, and told us to head on over. But we could not figure out where the address was. So we all loaded into dinghies again and went back over on an exploratory trip to the ferry dock, thinking perhaps this office might now be open. And it was. Scrambled up tires again - more black - and met two VERY nice young Puerto Rican Customs officials, who said they had been open at 8:00! (They were not!)
We were escorted into a room where they meet hundreds from a weekly ferry from the D.R., and handed over our documents. One officer - a very personable, charming and handsome guy - stayed to chat with us while three others processed us all. Roberta asked about highlights and we had a fun talk about what to see in PR. We had to pay $27.50 because we did not have a Customs decal, but the cost will go towards getting one as soon as we can get online. Good thing we had some cash on hand! We didn't get a decal in Florida before leaving, because the Customs agent who gave us our Florida Boaters Option cards told us to wait (it was late Dec and they are only good for a calendar year) and that it wasn't totally necessary anyway, and then we forgot. It seems to be a big deal here... so we will get one, it will be mailed to my brother, and we will just use the number until we can have it in hand - which is ok according to these Customs guys. For any US boat heading here, we highly recommend a working phone and a customs decal.
Then, Customs allowed us to leave our dinghies on their dock for a while, and told us how to find AT&T, etc., by walking about a mile, which we did. (YAY! We have an unlimited-use US phone again for another month or so!) Found a McDonalds "café" (trying to be like Starbucks), and by then we were all starving, so we had lunch - and a latte!
We eventually got back to the boats, and headed for Boqueron down the "inside" path. It was a somewhat wild ride. 15-20k wind behind, big swell bumping into shallows, but it was fun! We slid into Boqueron, and anchored with very few cruising boats and quite a few derelict sailboats, which it turns out have people living on some.
Cruising guides by Van Sant and Pavlidis have interesting descriptions of Boqueron - including information that "Bohemians" have moved in. We wondered what their definition of a Bohemian was... So of course, as soon as the anchor was down, we drove in to find out, despite being thoroughly exhausted.
The dinghy dock was quite decrepit, and a small breaking swell was rolling through it onto the beach. After much adjustment, we were able to tie off, throw an anchor line, and monitor that the dinghy could ride it out. At the town end of the dinghy dock, the Saturday night party began!
This is a narrow-streeted, college hangout, beach town (but the "young bucks and bikinis" were all up at Rincon for a surfing competition, according to our Customs guys). There were lots of families hanging out, kids playing in the surf, small kiosks selling art and homemade jewelry, others hawking clams, oysters, shrimp, octopus, lobster. Stores of beach wear - PR style. Sidewalk karaoke bars. Loud music blaring from taverns 'til 2am. And of course, the "bohemians" - which it turns out (we think) seems to be local code for "gay." What a scene!
On the way in to the dock, we passed an ARC boat (a boat who has crossed the Atlantic as part of a cruising rally) "JayJay," and at the dinghy dock we met the Brits, Debra and Paul, who sail her. Very nice people who are heading north and maybe to the Bahamas, we chatted with for a while and invited to join us. They did. Banyan and Blue Moose didn't like the look of the dinghy dock and headed for Club Nautica where they were allowed to tie up and illicitly access the road through the restaurant. On later trips in to town, we all tied up there - much nicer. We met up on the street and headed to Galloways for a cold one and dinner. It was a great evening with lots of stories and laughs. We were all tired from our passages, so headed back to the boats for a very roly night with the NW swell, which everyone kept saying was so unusual for this bay that is advertised as a calm, restful anchorage.
We spent a tired Sunday checking out an advertised but non-existent fuel dock (a gas station will loan you a jerry can if you leave an ID!), a non-existent laundry, searching for a grocery store (found a mini-mart), walking the pretty beach, transforming Celilo from passage boat to pretty, picked-up home, and making plans for where to go next and when.
After another VERY roly night and not enough sleep, we listened to Chris Parker's weather report on the SSB. Roberta called him to ask about rounding Cabo Rojo and was told "today is the best day to go," so within an hour, all three boats were anchor up and heading to La Parguera... which is where we are now, in a calm anchorage surrounded by mangroves.
Coming down, the wind was out of the N along with the swell until we rounded Cabo Rojo, a beautiful cape with bluffs and an old lighthouse. Once on the south shore we were in the lee from the swell and the wind shifted to southerly - the influence of the sea breeze dominating due to the mountains blocking the northerly.
The way in here was skinny but marked, we are in the US after all, and with the sun behind us the visibility was good. We are anchored in about 15 feet and got a good set. The diurnal pattern of the sea/land breeze means we will swing through a circle each day. May have to watch that anchor chain.
La Parguera provided a good night's sleep, the first since George Town. The town is small and there are colorful buildings, mostly weekend places it seems, built right out over the water. There are reefs and mangroves all around, a bioluminescent bay, and we had fun checking it all out. We snorkeled the reef, and Michael went swimming in the biolum bay. It was fun to see the water light up around his moving hands and feet!
After a couple of nights in La Parguera, we set out for Palmas Del Mar where we are now, on the east coast of Puerto Rico. We stopped overnight in Puerta Patillas, but didn't even get the dinghy down - it had been a long day (60 miles with a stop for fuel in Salinas), and we wanted to get going early. We arrived in Palmas about 10 a.m., and are in a marina, so we can rent a car and go see some of the country. We gave Celilo a bubble bath - she was very salt-crusted! - and then spent the afternoon at the marina tiki bar and pool. We are feeling like we are at the Ritz!
We are still with Banyan and Blue Moose, sharing dinners and happy hours with what Michael calls "The Canadian Navy" - and turns out that Dave, of Banyan, was actually in the Canadian Navy!
The Puerto Rican coastline is very beautiful. We northwesterners like to see a hill or two now and then, and after the flat Chesapeake and Bahamas, the mountainous Puerto Rican landscape is gorgeous and green. So far, everyone we have met in Puerto Rico has been fun, friendly, laughing. We are happy to be here and exploring a new place. It is still hard to believe that we have sailed ourselves here! If this is a dream, don't pinch me - I don't want to wake up!
After another fun week at Warderick Wells, we headed north again, this time to a new island for us: Norman's Cay, where Carlos Lehder had his infamous drug-running operation. Michael had just finished a book about the whole thing, and wanted to see the ruins of the opulent houses, yacht club, airstrip, etc. We anchored off the west side, had a very bouncy night, and dinghied over to the endless, gorgeous beach to begin a long, hot walk on land - down the airstrip and little-used roads to see falling down structures with vegetation growing through them and former gardens with pretty plantings and rock walls. It was quite extensive. And it was also sad to see that all that junk had been left. No one continued any of the hotel, restaurant, or marina operations, and this end of a pretty island begins to look like a city dump.
Next day, we had had it with a jerky, rolling swell, and another storm was due to approach. Rather than head back to hide in Exuma Park again, we crossed Exuma Sound to deal with clocking winds by anchoring first on one side of Rock Sound Bay and then the other and back again (zigzag). And so the Captain could fish, which he did, and got skunked...
At Rock Sound, we found Wonderland in the anchorage (we had met them in Warderick), and wandering through town we met other cruisers Pete and Diane on Pearl, who have been coming to Rock Sound for years, and know a lot about the place and the locals. Pete knew of a place to get a haircut, and Michael had his curly locks shorn in his second buzz-cut (first was in Halifax). We spent one sundown hour on Wonderland and then had Pearl and Wonderland over to Celilo. (Cruisers tend to be known by their boat names).
While we were there, we managed to process the paperwork to complete the sale of our slip on the Magothy River. We are no longer owners of a hole in the water in Maryland! It was quite complicated, us being out of country, and we needed to get papers signed and notarized... WHERE would we do that in the Bahamas??? We put word out over the net asking about notaries and a cruiser told us about their experience in George Town - apparently the US will accept a Bahamian notary. Here they are called Justices of the Peace, and often town Administrators are JP's. So we walked to the Rock Sound Administrator's office to have this official notarize our papers. But he had not "reached." (This is a particularly endearing - to us any way - Bahamian term. If someone has not arrived, they have not "reached". If they are expected, they "will reach.") One of the secretaries knew another JP, Mr. Ingraham, at the Hardware Store and called to find that he would reach at 1pm, so we showed up there at the appointed time. He reached at 2:30... but the wait was worth it!
Mr. Ingraham owns the large hardware store, which is a total trip to cruise through - you'll find stuff you haven't seen since the 50's! For the last many years his son has operated the store and Mr. Ingraham shows up a few days a week to help out. He is a retired Parliamentarian and was Speaker of Parliament for the last 5 of his 10 years there. Now, how many of you have had your real estate deals notarized by a Speaker of Parliament???!!! After all the official business was transacted, we had a delightful visit with this very gracious man. He owns a fishing boat, is quite a fisherman, and also owns a small hotel in Tarpum Bay. We hope to see him again one day.
Michael and I had talked about wanting to visit Cat Island and perhaps Conception, and it turned out that was Pearl's plan too - so after the storm passed, we started out in the wee dark hours of morning to head around Eleuthera to sail the 76 miles to Cat Island. Unfortunately, we passed retired Forest Service friends on Magpie going the opposite direction! At New Bight Harbor at Cat Island we joined up with Mon Amie, and finally met Mary (she had been in the States when Dave graciously threaded our mooring line in Hatchet Bay). Mary is the Thursday voice of Cruiseheimers - one of the nets we enjoy.
One of the fun things to do at Cat is to climb the hill up to The Hermitage, a retirement home for Father Jerome, an architect priest. The stone Hermitage is a miniature replica of a European Franciscan Monastery and was built by hand by Father Jerome, who designed and built St Paul's and St. Peter's churches in Clarence Town on Long Island, and St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church on Cat. From our anchorage, the Hermitage on top of the hill looks large - like a castle in Europe. But when you get up close it is sized like a child's garden dollhouse. Father Jerome lived in it for 16 years before his death at age 80.
After our visit to the Hermitage, we had a fun day walking though town, touring the church, eating at a local kiosk, and buying fresh-baked bread and buns at Olive's. Then, we all had happy hour on Mon Amie.
The next day, we all decided to head back to George Town for the start of the Cruiser's Regatta, and a couple of weeks of very silly fun. So once again, we crossed Exuma Sound (zigzag). And Michael caught a 20-pound mahi!!!
Landed in George Town at "Hamburger Beach" - so called because of the local hamburger stand there - and hooked up with friends on Rachel, Kismet, Blew Moon, Coyote, Cookie Monster, and Banyan to share cocktails at sunset, beach and dune hikes, bocce ball on the sand, and the traditional cold one at the "Chat 'n Chill" (beach bar hangout).
The Cruiser's Regatta begins with what is billed as a "No-Talent Talent Show," but we found a lot of talent there! Musicians singing funny songs, a granddaughter doing a great performance with slapping hands, cups and a very pretty voice, silly and creative skits, and the funniest thing we have seen in a long time - a bunch of 60+yr old men doing a synchronized swimming skit - on land. Afterwards, a cruiser called "Rockin' Ron" DJ'd a dance on the beach. Other fun: a bocce ball tournament (YAY COOKIE MONSTER!!! They won!), a "Coconut Round-up", Dinghy Poker Race...
With a cold front threatening - again! - a bunch of us headed down-bay to Red Shanks in a very protected spot, hid there for a week, went for 5-mile walks on that part of the island, and swam in a blue hole. Good friends Roger and Jane from Campbell River, BC on Sereno 55 had just crossed from Florida and joined us there, delivering things we had all requested from the States. It was really great to see them again, and since they had spent a year in the Carib, we had a very informative couple of hours over charts.
And then... came an unusual period of three cold fronts rolling in one after the other, suppressing the predominant trade winds (easterlies) that blow through the Caribbean - an outstanding opportunity - without bashing and crashing into the wind against us - to head SE to Puerto Rico. So we did.